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This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: August 19, 2008 - Like so many others, I have been addicted to the Beijing Olympics, watching every evening for the past 10 days. NBC has been unable to resist flashing the medal count every day, of course. It would be good not to focus on the medals, but for some ignoring medals must be very hard.

I am thinking particularly of Marion Jones. She won five medals in the 2000 Sydney Olympics. Seven years later, on Sept. 8, 2007, she returned them to the IOC and six months after that entered Carswell Federal Prison in Fort Worth, Texas.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: September 23, 2008 - Babies the world over live on milk, rich in proteins, fats and other nutrients. But now it appears this food can be deadly to the babies who are fed it. In China over the past few weeks, thousands of babies have become ill from the milk-based bottle formula they were fed, many of the babies critically ill.

As of this week, China's Ministry of Health reports that the number of infants in China's hospitals after ingesting tainted baby formula is 12,892, and that 39,965 more with less life-threatening symptoms are being treated at their homes.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: September 16, 2008 - No one seeing the ring of fat decorating my middle would take me for a runner. Only in my memory do I get up with the robins, lace on my running shoes, bounce out the front door and run the streets of University City for an hour before going to work. Now my 5 K runs are 30-year-old memories. Any mention I make of my running in a race only evokes screams of laughter from my daughters, and an arch look from my wife.

Memory is cruelest when it is accurate.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: September 9, 2008 - I can remember when I was a Boy Scout being instructed by my scout master that if I ever got lost in the woods without a compass, I should look to see what side of a tree had moss growing on it (the idea being, I suppose, that in the Northern Hemisphere the north side of a tree get the least sun, and that mosses favor this shade). That turns out to be a real lousy way to tell direction. What I should have been told, I learned last week, was to look for a grazing cow.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: September 2, 2008 - The Food and Drug Administration recently released a long-awaited draft report on the safety of a controversial chemical used to line the metal interior of canned foods and to make plastic bottles shatterproof. Called bisphenol A or simply BPA, the chemical has been banned from use in baby bottles in Canada, and legislation to restrict its use has been introduced in California, New Jersey and 10 other states.

On Science: Restaurant forensics

Aug 26, 2008

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: August 26, 2008 - This past week, we learned of two Manhattan high school students who, in a science project, gave us a glimpse of the future. They asked a simple question: "When you buy fish, do you get the kind of fish you think you are buying?"

Anyone who has bought fish at the market or ordered fish at a sushi restaurant knows the problem: In the store, one fish looks pretty much like another. In particular, some of the more trendy, tasty and expensive kinds of fish look a lot like cheaper substitutes. White tuna, for example, is difficult to distinguish in the store from farm-raised tilapia, although you pay a lot more for it.

Earth as seen from the moon
NASA

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: August 12, 2008 - One evening next week I am going to audition for a part in St. Louis Shakespeare's upcoming production of War of the Worlds (Don't ask me why a Shakespeare company is putting on a play based on a radio drama by H.G. Wells!), in which invaders from Mars attack Earth. With this sort of prospect buzzing in the back of my mind, I cannot help but note a lot of stories about Mars in the news lately.

On Science: The war on AIDS is not going well

Aug 5, 2008
2008 beacon archive chart
George Johnson | Copyright Textwriter

This first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: August 5, 2008 - This week the world's AIDS researchers held the 17th Annual AIDS Conference in Mexico City. The news is not good.

On Science: TV, murder and lessons learned

Jul 29, 2008

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: July 29, 2008 - Television replaced radio as America's primary means of home entertainment in the 1950s, and in the half-century since many critics have complained that its great potential as an educational venue has never been fully realized. However, programs marketed as entertainment are sometimes surprisingly educational, none more than the CSI programs shown on the CBS network for the last few years.

On Science: UFO sightings by reasonable people

Jul 23, 2008
Adam Baker | Flickr

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: July 23, 2008 - Have you ever seen something that jolted you awake from a quiet reverie, I mean REALLY got your attention when you weren't paying any? I have. Last week I was on vacation with my family at a dude ranch in Wyoming, riding by myself in the late evening through nearby pastures on a massive appaloosa horse looking at the stars in a cloudless sky and thinking about nothing in particular. And then I saw ... something.

bat
Provided by George Johnson | Beacon archives

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: July 15, 2008 - Bats are dying. A plague has killed tens of thousands of them in the Northeastern states this spring. The cause of "white nose syndrome," named for a white fungus that appears on bats' noses and wings, is a mystery to biologists.

On Science: Tanning to death

Jul 8, 2008

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: July 8, 2008 - Almost all the cells in your body replace themselves as they wear out, your skin cells more frequently than any other tissue. Exposed to a lot of wear and tear, the cells of your skin divide about every 27 days to replace dead or damaged cells. In each instance, the skin sloughs off dead cells from the surface and replaces these with new cells from beneath. The average person will lose about 105 pounds of skin by the time he or she turns 70.

On Science: Type II diabetes epidemic

Jul 1, 2008
diabetes_chart247.jpg - 2008, 300 pixels
Copyright Textwriter | St. Louis Beacon archives

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: July 1, 2008 - We Americans love to eat; but on June 24, 2008, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report warning we are eating ourselves into a diabetes epidemic.

Diabetes affected 7 million Americans in 1991. By mid-2008, the number was 24 million, more than 8 percent of all Americans, an alarming increase, with 3 million new cases in just the last 2 1/2 years! Twenty-five million more Americans are reported to be pre-diabetic, with blood sugar levels high enough to indicate they are well on their way to becoming diabetic.

a healthy coronary artery.  300 pixels. 2008
Copyright Textwriter

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: June 24, 2008 - On June 13, Tim Russert died of a massive heart attack. Moderator of NBCs influential "Meet the Press," he had seemed in perfect health and had no apparent risk factors, a healthy individual who was a nonsmoker, exercised regularly, ate a healthy diet -- and drops dead of a heart attack.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: I visited Korea for a week at the end of May, a speaker at a world conference on Peace and the Environment, and was surprised to find myself questioned by almost everyone I met about the dangers of American food. On walls everywhere in the city of Seoul are posters showing a cute little girl holding a candle and saying, “I don’t want to die from American beef.” On May 2, tens of thousands of protesters crowded downtown Seoul. The conference speaker before me, Korean Prime Minister Han Seung-soo, was late, delayed by more street demonstrations.

On Science: Angry over mad cow disease

Jun 10, 2008
angus 300 pxls 2008
USDA

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: June 10, 2008 - I visited Korea for a week at the end of May, a speaker at a world conference on Peace and the Environment, and was surprised to find myself questioned by almost everyone I met about the dangers of American food. On walls everywhere in the city of Seoul are posters showing a cute little girl holding a candle and saying, “I don’t want to die from American beef.” On May 2, tens of thousands of protesters crowded downtown Seoul. The conference speaker before me, Korean Prime Minister Han Seung-soo, was late, delayed by more street demonstrations.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: June 4, 2008 - Editor's Note: In his column of June 4, George Johnson laid out four environmental problems and the responses to them so far. Now, he uses that groundwork to discuss the role of science in identifying environmental problems, educating the public and finding soutions.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: June 3, 2008  - This week, the Senate began considering legislation to combat global warming. A carbon dioxide emissions “cap-and-trade” system, it seems to have little chance of becoming law. It is, however, a welcome sign that our government is beginning to come to grips with a problem that has the entire world worried. In this week’s column I would like to step back and consider the science behind the mess we’ve gotten ourselves into. We as a nation cannot hope to implement the sort of changes necessary to achieve a sustainable world if we as citizens do not clearly understand the nature of the problem we face.

platypus300swimming.jpg
Wikipedia

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: May 27, 2008 - This month a most unusual animal had its genome sequenced by molecular biologists: the platypus. Some of its genes match those of humans, like a cluster of casein genes involved in milk production. This was not unexpected, as both of us are mammals and possess mammary glands. Other genes were very different from ours, more like those found in birds and reptiles. Again, this was not unexpected; after all, the platypus is a very primitive mammal, not far removed from reptiles and birds on the evolutionary ladder.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: Every mile you drive your car releases about a pound of CO2 into the air. How many miles do you drive in a year? Now think about the natural gas that heats your home, the electricity that lights it (mostly generated by the burning of fossil fuels). Your life is pumping an enormous amount of CO2 into earth's atmosphere.

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: The Missouri House Education Committee is considering this session an outrageous bill that attacks Missouri education while claiming to improve it. Submitted by Republican Rep. Wayne Cooper of Camdenton as the "Missouri Science Education Act," HB 2554 purports to improve science teaching in Missouri by helping students develop critical thinking skills. Teachers would have to clearly identify what is "verified empirical data" and distinguish it from what is "theory, hypothesis, conjecture, speculation" and the like.

Copyright George Johnson | St. Louis Beacon archives

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: 50 million Americans smoke cigarettes. Although smoking has decreased in recent years, 24 percent of Missourians still light up.